learning to lean

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

There are many things it would be good for us to get over in this life. One of them is our tendency to have an unhealthy self-reliance in which we think it all depends on us. That we have to figure things out, yes- maybe even with God’s help, but that it still depends on us.

Somehow God includes us in this, but it never depends on us, that is if we’re intent in doing it in the way of wisdom as given to us here. We don’t have the weight of anything fully on us. Whatever weight is on us should come from what God gives us, not what we take on ourselves.  But for that to be the case, we’re going to have to become intent on learning to lean. “Lean not on your own understanding” being the probably better-known translation of “do not rely on your own insight.”

This needs to become a part of who we are, what we’re becoming. In and through Jesus.

God behind and before us

For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight,
for the LORD will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 52:12

Right before the “suffering servant” passages we have this promise for Israel in the midst of subjugation by the foreign world power of that time, Assyria. All the promises of God we’re told are yes and amen in and through Christ. So, there’s something we can take from this for ourselves this day and time.

God is behind and before us to guide and protect us. We need to live appreciating that. It might well be true for us and is as long as we have faith. But we may not much if at all have any sense or experience of it. This truth should help us not to be afraid or panic as the passage above tells us. Because we have a certain inward rest even in the midst of difficulty, trial, whatnot, just all the inevitable twists and turns that life brings.

God will take care of it. God has our backs and knows all that lies ahead. There’s a certain mysticism which faith in God elicits. We can’t explain or understand it fully, except we know there’s one that fully understands, and though much seems out of control, and is definitely beyond our control, we also know that God is at work in all things for good, somehow in control in the midst of it all. So that our full confidence is only in God. In and through Jesus.

our mothering God

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131; NRSVue

Probably the most important thing I learned in my first year of college is just what little I know. A world of knowledge was opened up to us, and what I thought I knew was set aside. In that kind of education, one not only sees how little they know, but that oftentimes what we think we know is flat out mistaken.

This psalm touches on that, but that’s not really the heart of it. It’s more about our relationship with God and life from that perspective. I’ve never been a mother, so I can’t speak firsthand here, but the relationship between God and each person is likened to a mother and child, in that culture a weaned child being between three to five years of age (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version). A child at that age wants to explore and learn, but they’re still quite dependent on their mother.

Childishness is spoken of in Scripture as a sign of immaturity, but childlikeness quite the opposite, a mark of maturity. Jesus said we must repent and become like children to enter into God’s kingdom. In that sense remaining a child.

I’m not sure I’ve ever learned this, or maybe I should say not obviously so to me, though in indirect ways I’m becoming more that way. Just the sense of need for God correlates to this, even if we aren’t aware of enjoying and experiencing enough of that care.

Yes, it’s motherly care that God’s care is likened to here. But as the psalm tells us here, the child is to take it on themselves to calm down. Probably God is calming us down as well, since surely God does that for all of us as God’s children. But we often resist that, for whatever reasons. Instead we’re to let down our guard and let God. You might say in the well known if often misunderstood phrase: “Let God and let God.”

We are completely dependent on God for everything. Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that we truly understand nothing aright or well apart from God’s help? Do we really believe that God in God’s love will take care of us, or even that we’re actually in need of that care?

None of this means that we can be immature. In fact in this picture immaturity is a denial of this, and maturity an acceptance. A hard one for us to accept on our own. I’m having trouble with this right now. I want to unlearn so much and learn what God directly would like to teach me. I would like to experience so much more of God’s motherly care.

And we’re all in this together. Together we’re to put our hope in God in this way from now on and forever.

back to an important basic

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7; NRSVue

For me anxiety is a problem which though I handle much better now as a rule than in the past, still hits me. My hope is that I’ll be able to fend it off more and more through the promises of God in Scripture, simply by trusting God, bringing it to God in prayer.

It’s so basic here to do what we’re told to do. Yes, when something either might possibly make us anxious, or we are anxious, we need to do what we’re told here. Take it to God in prayer. Yes, with thanksgiving, thanking God in any way we can. Just the honest effort to do that is enough. And then bring to God whatever our concern is in detail.

We are prone to wonder what difference that could possibly make. But God is God. God is the needed difference maker, not us or anyone else. God uses others, yes, but it is God who makes the difference.

God will take care of the problem, giving us whatever we need, or at the very least we can with full assurance: no matter what, God will see us through to the very end. And remember that in this life we will never know it all. The only thing we can know for sure is that we need to trust God and that God will take care of us and everyone else. That may make no sense to us given what actually happens in the world. But God gives us peace of heart and mind in spite of everything. Not because we no longer care, but because we know by faith that God cares. In and through Jesus.

keep going (walk through it)

Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33; NRSVue

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

John 14:1; NRSVue

One of the most important things any of us can do who have struggled with anxiety is to just keep walking through life rather than allowing ourselves to be gripped with anxiety. That doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge the problems or situation we’re facing. We do, but our focus all along needs to be on Christ.

Peter was gangbusters with his faith, part of his personality, also probably in part why he often took the lead among the apostles. He made his share of mistakes, but learned in the process. We learn faith only by faith or one might even say by doing faith. It’s not just something good to store in our heads, but we have to do it, to work it out in our lives.

Peter accepted that it was the Lord walking on the water, and somehow thought that if Jesus could do that, then so could he. After all, the apprentice is supposed to learn to do what their master does. And when it came right down to it, it was a matter of faith.

Unfortunately Peter took his gaze off Jesus, instead quickly becoming captured with the reality of the waves being beaten by the strong wind. He began to sink, but had the faith to cry out to the Lord to save him.

The situations we face in life are real. The question is how to face them. When our faith is weak we probably are best to avoid considering them altogether, but instead to turn our attention to Jesus in prayer along with meditation on scripture.

Years ago our church group went to a ropes course. The first year I was terrified and couldn’t even walk across the first rope and got down. I am not fond of heights. Of course we were strapped well. As I recall it, I tried, but might have fallen, suspended in midair, and that was enough for me. I think I looked down that first year, a terrifying sight for me. I knew we were going back the following year, and decided to not look down, as I recall it fifteen feet or likely somewhat higher. That year I actually did the entire ropes course, never one time looking down which I knew would be my downfall. I wonder what would have happened if I would have fallen. I don’t know, though I’m not optimistic.

But when our faith becomes stronger, knowing that Christ will hold us, will see us through, then we can work on the problem, even giving our attention to it, yet all the while not letting our hearts become troubled since our trust is in Christ. What if in this story, Peter’s faith would’ve been stronger. He might have noticed the wind whipped waves and as I imagine of him, simply laugh, continuing on toward Jesus, then both of them walking to the boat and getting in.

The point is that no matter what we face, God is with us in Christ. God will see us through. But for this to take hold and make the needed difference in our lives, we’re going to have to simply be willing to keep going with our attention turned toward the Lord, receiving the Lord’s help to us as we stay in scripture. As we do that we’ll learn by experience that the Lord always upholds us through what otherwise would be nothing but being caught in the grip of our latest anxiety or fear. No, we just keep walking by faith, and refuse to let any circumstance stop us. And as we do, then in time and sooner than we likely think, we will be able to receive God’s help so that we have a better perspective. And part of that is receiving God’s peace in Christ Jesus which actually surpasses our understanding and lack thereof and indeed even guards our hearts and minds (see Philippians 4:6-7).

Life is full of trouble and problems, no doubt. And true faith does not simply ignore such or pretend it doesn’t exist. But true faith in following Jesus also refuses to give in to a troubled heart and mind. We’re told to not let our hearts be troubled, but rather to trust in God. In and through Jesus.

that same “thorn in the flesh”

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10; NRSVue

I am in an off and on, seemingly perpetual battle to overcome anxiety over this or that or something else. Usually house related over this or that concern, which sometimes for me can seem overwhelming. I would like to get rid of anxiety once and for all. I think decades back I naively wanted to simply make a commitment with necessary follow through to not be anxious, never worry again. If we seek to apply passages like Philippians 4:6-7 which tells us not be anxious about anything, but what to do so that in the end the peace of God which surpasses all understanding would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, that’s all well and good. But we have to apply those scriptures and keep doing that, realizing that we’re never going to do it perfectly, and that it’s a matter of being in a process of spiritual growth.

Your besetting sin, or propensity toward what’s unhelpful (Hebrews 12:1-2) might be something different. Let’s add to that felt weakness, which actually might not be categorized as besetting sin. It is important that we seek to address all such in the best way we know how. And that might well include some professional counseling in the mix. But seeking to apply scripture prayerfully throughout.

But now to the main topic. The thing is that our experience in this life is going to be pretty bumpy with ups and downs, sometimes down and outs. We just can’t control how we feel, at least not directly. Indirectly we can have some influence on our experience by doing what Paul did in the passage above. He certainly prayed to the Lord to take his thorn in the flesh away, three times, likely extended times. What was that thorn? We don’t know. That’s part of the genius of this passage. It might have been some human enemy since thorns are said to be that in the Hebrew Bible. Or maybe Paul’s eye malady. Whatever it was, Paul’s description and application open the door for its application to us, regardless of what our own “thorn in the flesh,” even a tormenting “messenger of Satan” might be.

We seek to do all that is right in total dependence on God, waiting on God. But if the answer we want doesn’t come, we continue on regardless with the promise that God’s grace is sufficient. That power probably meaning the Lord’s power (as in some Greek manuscripts) is made perfect in weakness. So we press on, looking forward to the day and time when this is removed, but realizing that it can all be somehow for our good and the good of others. God will help us, even if it’s not the help we would choose ourselves. And in that we’ll find something far greater than the help we wanted. Yes, even in the midst of the weakness. God’s strength and presence. In and through Jesus.

getting rid of “if only’s”

I like to put up a scriptural text since I find grounding in that, leading me to Christ and the good news in him along with specific directions for life. For this one I couldn’t come up with anything, except to think of Judas Iscariot hanging himself over his betrayal of Jesus, and Peter weeping bitterly when he denied the Lord three times. They both handled it drastically differently, but although Peter came out in the clear, it certainly wasn’t easy for him.

We probably have some pile of regrets, things we wished we would have done differently, or not done at all. When you think about it, there’s probably some small regrets each day, maybe a few bigger ones along the way, but we get caught up in this or that, and wish we would have done better, that something of the edge might be taken off of us. We can immediately repent, and count such times as learning opportunities, so that we might be aware of our deficiencies and work in God’s grace to do better and keep growing in goodness in Christ.

But to the topic. “If only’s” easily plague us. Yes, most certainly we can learn from them, and we should count that as a plus. After all, at the time we somehow thought or felt what we were doing was alright or good enough. We can at least take away from having failed, all the way from a miscue to a sin, that we can learn from that, and do better. Hopefully not just because of the pain experienced, though that’s entirely legitimate. But most importantly along with that, over concern out of the love of God to love God and others.

“What if’s?” or “If only’s!” are simply a waste not only of time, but even worse, a waste of our minds and hearts. We’re led down a track and put into a pit in which it isn’t easy to escape or get out of. Much easier to fall into it, then get out of it.

None of this will help us in the least. We certainly can’t time travel and reverse this or that, though I’m sure most all of us would be happy to do that if we could. It is not only wasted thinking, but harmful. It can lead us to a dark space devoid of grace. With God’s help and commitment to do better, we can find God’s grace and light to bring a peace that surpasses all our own understanding, lack of understanding, along with misunderstanding, but add to that, even what we think we understand all too well. And giving us even a cheer and joy that seems inexplicable, but right from the heart of God to our hearts.

We have to look at this as part of the spiritual warfare we’re engaged in. We have to commit ourselves to not going there, but with the realization that we can do this only by God’s help. Yet at the same time knowing too that it is we that have to do it. God isn’t going to do it for us. Although there are those strange occasions, and rare, when it does seem like God is doing it for us, so that what we do is nearly effortless.

God will help us to get past this, but let’s not expect it in a flash, or think we can just leave all of this behind in a day. It will be a part of our spiritual growing process, and ongoing spiritual warfare along the way. God will help us and see us through, as we trust and keep going in the right direction, sometimes confessing our failure to do so along the way, then getting up to move in the direction that God will give us. In and through Jesus.

how not to panic

thus says the Lord GOD,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”

Isaiah 28:16; NRSVue

There are any number of things which can cause panic and distress in this life. There’s really no end to that. It’s a given.

God’s people were not abiding by God and God’s covenant with them, so Isaiah was prophesying to them from God to help them find their way back to God. And the promise Isaiah laid out here is in terms of countering the experience of unbelieving, unfaithful Israel.

God wanted their attention to be drawn to his revelation given through God’s servants and centered in Jerusalem in the temple with the ordinances given. All to turn their attention to God, so that their hearts might be undergoing full renewal in God. All of that is fulfilled in Christ. Christ is the foundation and precious cornerstone. And we’re told that the one who trusts will not panic, from the Hebrew the idea being to be in haste or in a hurry in that panic.

When I feel panic, I’m ordinarily in a hurry to solve the problem, or find the solution. Not referring to necessary times of moving swiftly in certain situations. But talking about often unexpected situations we meet, not knowing what to do.

But the promise here is those who trust won’t panic. No matter what we’re up against, we need to hold our ground and trust. Trust in God and God’s revelation in Jesus along with all the promises that are yes and amen in Jesus.

So when we’re tempted to panic or we fall into that, let’s get back to this stance of faith. I’m preaching to myself. Trust in God, in God’s revelation given to us in scripture, in Jesus. And refuse to act in haste, to be in a hurry. Instead to act in trust so that we really by God’s grace begin to enter into the experience of faith. In and through Jesus.

glimpses of light, but the darkness not lost

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

Scripture is loaded with stories which can make you wonder. If we read the Bible as though it were flat, then we put it together like a jig saw puzzle. And what is often said is that one part is as legitimate as another, for example Jesus’s words not to resist evil and to turn the other cheek do not at all cancel out the violence in the Hebrew scriptures, but both somehow are equally legitimate, though inevitably contradictions won’t stand. Jesus himself did not allow such, rebuking his disciples for suggesting fire should come down and destroy the Samaritans who did not receive him, telling them they didn’t know by what spirit they were speaking.

There are things both in Scripture and in our lives which are broken and need redeemed. And that is not an easy process. But God is faithful, and we can actually help the process and reduce the pain and trouble if we commit ourselves as well as hold on to faith in God, that God will see everything through to the good end in Christ. That is not unlike the messes we see in Scripture, even including arguably either the accommodations or mistaken notions or projections we find there about God, what God is doing.

Everything really needs to be understood in term of the God who is love, who makes that love known which we find everywhere in Scripture, but is revealed fully only in Christ, and Christ on the cross. We have to read and see all of Scripture in that light, as well as all of our life in the same light as well. There are inevitable difficulties from simply living in the world, as well as from our own errors, mistakes, missteps, sins. God is out to redeem all.

What we need to do is to hang on by faith in spite of what we’re going through, what our experience is. To the extent that we do, we’ll begin to at least sense, and hopefully begin to experience what is the end of God’s purpose in Christ: complete, unmitigated love, with nothing whatsoever able to withstand that ultimately, and if we can only trust God, what we’ll more and more experience here and now, the same reality which will be ours and all of creation forever in the redemption and reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Something we not only look forward to, but begin to experience now, even with the inevitable even in part necessary difficulties we go through. In and through Jesus.

confirm your faith by following through with action

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.

James 2:22

James is referring to Abraham’s faith confirmed as it were in his obedience to God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. That is an impossible one to wrap one’s head around. Key is to understand that this kind of faith does not depend on our own understanding. God helps our understanding, so it’s not like understanding is left behind. But again, it’s not our own understanding, not from our own reasoning.

When we have clarity, and a sense of what we need to do by faith, then we need to follow through in that, even if “a thousand screaming monkeys” might be yelling at us otherwise. In doing so, in the words of James, our faith is not passive, but active along with our works, indeed brought to completion by the works. Our faith might be good insofar as it goes, but may not be complete until we follow through with the action which corresponds to it.

As followers of Christ, we certainly want to live by faith. And that faith involves our entire lives, and every part of them. God will help us to have the understanding needed at each point and juncture of our lives. In and through Jesus.